#StopTheSlowLane – The Net is a Social Necessity

It’s time to rally again to the cause of net neutrality. We need the net to be open. We need the pipes not to discriminate against content. But, more, we should shift the debate. This is fundamentally about the role of the net in our lives. It is time we get to the core issue:

THE INTERNET IS A SOCIAL NECESSITY

We need the net, like we need water and electricity. You can’t function as a productive member of society without Internet access. So we should start talking about bandwidth and access as a fundamental social underpinning of our health and welfare.

In that context, tying access and bandwidth to content is obviously a mistake. It is fundamentally wrong. Not just because it allows large companies to control and distort what is carried, and more importantly, what is not carried on the net. It undermines the utility of a basic component of social fabric.

It is similar to allowing Walmart trucks to have dedicated lanes on our highways. The parallel argument would be: the majority of Americans shop at Walmart and the resultant efficiencies would help the majority gain better access to the goods they want. And because it would allow Walmart to optimize their trucks in ways they couldn’t if the roads weren’t integrated with their trucks…which benefits everyone due to fuel efficiencies, safety, etc.

But, it would be fundamentally wrong, and the reason has nothing to do with those arguments. It would be wrong because access to our roads is a fundamental social necessity. Individuals and business depend on road access to function in our society. Discriminatory access undermines our socio-economic system.
Today we’re utilizing the efficiencies and advantages of the net and net connected devices to re-engineer everything we do. This is already having tremendous impacts on our quality of life. Private companies, government, and individual social interactions use the net to transform themselves for the better. Web commerce, the Federal Paperwork Reduction Act, Meaningful Use initiatives for medical records – examples could fill volumes; there is not a single aspects of society that is not being transformed by the net.

Net access and bandwidth are too fundamental to be cooped by private interests for competitive advantage. Of course private interests and private capital are needed to effectively build and evolve the net. But we need to think of it like we think of electricity and water. Our lives would look very different if we let GE match their power plants to their electrical appliances. If in the 1950s GE had developed and people had accepted a system that guaranteeing optimized power from GE plants to GE appliances, we might have had better washers and dryers in our homes for a time. But it would have inhibited the development of virtually every powered device in our homes today.

We need policy that ensures everyone has net access and encourages continual increase of indiscriminate bandwidth. We can’t allow bandwidth to be tied to content. We can’t restrict the content that any part of internet carry. We need to translate privacy, property rights and commerce laws to net infrastructure. This is perhaps one of the most important policy imperatives of our generation.